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Class ?

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Arena Rock, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties



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(released by: AMBROSE SLADE)

Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating =

For 1965, a band that all but refuses to do its own material is chicken. For 1969, it's defiant!

Best song: MAD DOG CALE

Track listing: 1) Genesis; 2) Everybody's Next One; 3) Knocking Nails Into My House; 4) Roach Daddy; 5) Ain't Got No Heart; 6) Pity The Mother; 7) Mad Dog Cole; 8) Fly Me High; 9) If This World Were Mine; 10) Martha My Dear; 11) Born To Be Wild; 12) Journey To The Center Of Your Mind.

I like this record. (In a mesmerizing tone:) So should you. But I certainly do not love it. And (in a totalitarian tone:) neither should you. The motivation is simple - it's the kind of album that gives not a single reason to really hate it, being neither particularly pretentious nor particularly unprofessional, and not a single reason to really love it, being neither particularly innovative or particularly unique. A weird treat for 1969, in fact. Most of the albums from that year (and there were lots, including debut records from quite a few artists) were quite "edgy". Then again, "most" applies to the ones I've heard, of course. When you start thinking about it, it becomes rather obvious that the absolute majority of first-time albums from the epoch must have been more similar to Slade's debut rather than, say, the Led Zeppelin one. It's just that with all the natural selection going on, so little survives - and had Slade not gone on to bigger (if not necessarily better) things, Beginnings would have completely been lost to time. Not that many people are actually aware of the album's existence.

Especially if you take into account that Slade weren't even called Slade in the beginning. They were "Ambrose Slade", and, as is evident from the sleeve, they still had most of their hair intact, before they subscribed to the "skinhead" image, tattooed swastikas all over their faces, got a big hit with 'Mama We're So Nazee Now' and started violent Jewish pogroms all over the country in order to boost sales. Former Hendrix manager and proto-former Animals member Chas Chandler managed to push these guys into the recording studio, but he really had no idea what to do with them. After all, Jimi never needed to be pushed around in the studio by somebody else, whereas Slade were obviously at a loss. The band wasn't bad per se, but nobody had any particular, unique skill around which one could build up a musical style, nor did they have any special vision of their own. And it looked like either Noddy Holder hadn't yet discovered the immense brawny capacities of his lungs at all, or he just came across as too shy to reveal them in the context of a recording studio. All over the record, he is either double-tracked or just somewhat muffled down, displaying at best a dozenth part of his true strength.

Nor did they have the courage to fill the record up with their own compositions; there are but four original tunes on the album. Which was certainly all right for solo artists like Joe Cocker or Rod Stewart, whose main schtick was reinterpreting outside material through the filter of their tracheas, but quite conspicuous for a collective creative group labelling themselves as a "band" - especially at an era when not writing your own material was universally considered in bad taste and could almost certainly guarantee your being pigeonholed in a certain artist category where you really wouldn't want to find yourself in. Still, in retrospect (Ambrose) Slade's move does look honest and refreshing - writing for the sake of writing is, after all, one of the key reasons why there are so many bad pop songs in this world of ours. If you can't write, don't perform; if you can't help performing, well - cover!

The results are nice. At the very least, you can easily see there's no slick, "inoffensive" production butchering involved: everything is quite raw and lively, and the mediocre sound quality actually helps things because that way you can overlook any playing blunders there might be. The guitar sound is unusually "light" for the times, almost retro in a way (anything to do with an ex-Animal at the steering wheel?), but that don't prevent the boys from rocking out fine. And their choice of covers is anything but predictable. When they're doing Beatles, for instance, they dig out something as generally overlooked (and as utterly brilliant) as the elegant schmaltz of 'Martha My Dear', spicing it up with a country fiddle and delivering the goods as if they were this nice clean-cut polite little school outfit instead of a gang of hairy rambunctious proto-punks. (Although Holder's falsetto capacities leave a bit to be desired. That's hardly his department. Too much beer to sing falsetto.)

Just one thing that goes terribly wrong: somebody should have issued an edict prohibiting Slade from doing soulful ballads. Okay, it's one thing when they try it with self-penned stuff: 'Pity The Mother', a rugged half-rock, half-soul, half-folk tune, weirdly multi-part (probably going after the general art-rock craze), is tolerable, although, seeing as it deviates so highly from their steady three-minute formula, it doesn't really amount to a lot of pleasure. But 'If This World Were Mine' - if there ever was a thing called 'loathsome disgrace', bring it on here. Noddy doesn't even "over-emote" - he's just plain out of key, he's so openly out of key that it's a couple degrees below ridiculous. Thank God that at a certain point of human development along came AC/DC and stated that if a rock band is incapable of adequately performing lyrical ballads, then there is no need whatsoever for said band to perform said style, after which things got a little more straight. Alas, that would only be five years from then, and you will have to deal with the sentimental side of Slade - a band that had less sentimentalism in its blood than Lemmy has alcohol-free blood cells in his body.

When they don't do ballads, though, they get along. Somehow. Their own material ranges from the already mentioned attempts to write something 'artsy' to generic, but cute country blues ('Roach Daddy'), self-consciously "bizarre" space-rock compositions (the instrumental 'Genesis', for some completely misguided reason issued as a single - now come on, we know the 1969 public was on average more daring than today, but limits are limits), and cocky instrumental boogie ('Mad Dog Cole', which gets my nod for best song due to the exhilarating battle between Hill and Holder as the vocals of the latter imitate the guitar melodies of the former - or was that vice-versa? - a little prior to the times when this became a regular exercise for heavy metal bands).

As for the covers, well, see for yourself: apart from 'Martha My Dear', they do not one, but two Steppenwolf tracks - 'Born To Be Wild', of course, was practically written for Slade, the likeliest band this side of the Atlantic to pick up the Canadian-Prussian scent of John Kay; but 'Everybody's Next One' is definitely a less obvious choice. They do the Moody Blues - 'Fly Me High', a simple, but pretty pop single that's rather difficult to locate unless you have the Prelude collection. They do Frank Zappa (!), carefully wiping any possible traces of irony out of 'Ain't Got No Heart'. They do an obscure B-side by the Idle Race, Jeff Lynne's first band, called 'Knocking Nails Into My House' (doing justice to the song's great pop melody, but it's dang hard to butcher a solid Jeff Lynne tune, you know). And they do the Amboy Dukes' 'Journey To The Center Of Your Mind', popularizing Ted Nugent way before Ted Nugent's shotgun and popularizing Ted Nugent's former band way before Nuggets. In short, this is an odd, pointless, meandering potpourri you have here, but on the other hand, it makes up for Slade's most diverse album ever.

It's also the only album in the band's catalog where they sound moderately intelligent and the smell of cheap beer doesn't fill up your living room before the second song is over. Ironically, I guess if Slade had continued in the same style (or, rather, in the same stylistic abracadabra), they would most probably be completely ignored in the Seventies - although there's a fair chance that thirty years later people would look back at Beginnings and hail it as a lost classic of rock eclecticism or something. Today, just say "Slade" and the best you'll get in response will be "Oh yeah, C'mon Feel The Noize! Haven't heard that song since my doctor told me too much Lowenbrau was bad for my liver." And it'll be a good reply, because there's nothing wrong with great music going along with a great mug. But it's always fun to speculate about what could have happened if...



Year Of Release: 1970

Goodbye, sweet retro-Sixties guitar tones. Goodbye, "Ambrose". Hello, glam-rock and unabashed cockiness! Well, not quite completely unabashed yet, I suppose. But in any case, Slade's Play It Loud is the record that can be a worthy candidate for "first glam-rock album" ever. Its historical importance far surpasses the actual quality of the material, of course, but that importance can't be overlooked either. Having dropped the first part of their name, changed their approach to songwriting (less covers, more noise), and become far more self-assured in their approach to everything else (except the orthography in the song titles, which is still more or less decent), Slade are now going to prove that Chas Chandler's risky move of becoming their manager and producer was ultimately a lucky choice for the man.

To do that, Slade needed to be bolder, of course. And they are - but they haven't yet quite mastered the art of playing heavy metal, not having listened too carefully to such bold innovators of 1970 as Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. So their brand of hard rock at this point is a pretty generic bore, with lumpy pedestrian riffs hastily thrown together from bits of "creative processes" and bits of ripping off other artists - 'Raven', for instance, is based on a melody stolen from Sleepy John Estes' 'Milk Cow Blues', and 'See Us Here' steals the riff from Creedence's 'Gloomy'. Probably other rip-offs on here, as well, but my knowledge of obscure Sixties' R'n'B doesn't amount to that much. But I'm pretty sure that some of the codas in 'Sweet Box' are taken from Jethro Tull's 'Sweet Dream', too.

Nevertheless, the band still gets on due to a couple of factors. First of all, Holder's vocals have matured to the state of a fully competent rock'n'roll screamer, and when he lets loose, it's a wonder: he turns their cover of 'Shape Of Things To Come' into a frenzied emotional overdrive, sounding like a cross between a particularly hoarse Arlo Guthrie and a particularly high Grace Slick on that one. And he hardly lets go on any of the other tracks, either.

Second, the band still cares about hooks. If they steal or borrow, at least they steal or borrow good melodies; and if they don't, they still try to make the song interesting with whatever means they can. These hooks are never too strong - hardly anything on here is actually memorable. But as long as you keep on listening, this stuff is pretty catchy on a basic rock'n'roll level - "by-the-book rock'n'roll", as Mark Prindle would have said, but with a charm of its own.

Third, I'm amazed at the consistency of the lyrics. Introspective, even mildly philosophical at times (as on 'One Way Hotel'), it's a far cry from lyrical garbage like 'Cum On Feel The Noize' and all that crap. And the "power ballads", like 'Dapple Rose' and 'Angelina', are never marred by too much banalities and so never become offensive.

Any particular highlights? Well... Apart from 'Shape Of Things To Come', we should probably mention 'One Way Hotel', the best known song from the album. No brilliant melody - just a rather standard proto-boogie pattern with traces of Britpop - but one of the few really interesting manifestations of Slade's 'protest spirit', with lyrics that I can't understand completely (is this an anti-jail song? Or an anti-asylum one? Or is this just Slade's early prototype of 'Hotel California'?) but which are well worth deciphering anyway. 'Dapple Rose' is also pretty catchy, and 'See Us Here' is yet another major effort at penning something 'self-important', pulled out by Holder's wonderful voice.

Other songs just duly went by me (and some were ridiculously clumsy, like 'Pouk Hill' - more like 'Puke Hill' to me), but the general vibe never seemed all that offensive. And, just to say something particularly flattering, one should mention that this album obviously had to influence David Bowie: I can feel both melodic and atmospheric elements of this stuff directly borrowed into Ziggy Stardust and certain other Bowie glam albums. David seriously improved this vibe, of course, but first things first...


ALIVE! ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1972

Supposedly a classic, and man are there some arguments out there to support this idea, but the setlist is a bit too weak in order for me to agree fully. For one thing, very few 'classic' Slade numbers had been written at that point, and so the boys rely heavily on covers, which are quite hit and miss. And then, it's just too short! Seven songs? What the heck is that? Whoever puts only seven songs on one live album? (Unless you're Yes, in which case seven is way too many, if only because they'll never fit on one album.)

That said, the performance is still decent and 'achieves ignition' in more than a few places. Of course, the band fully discloses itself as an untalented pub rock outfit - none of the instruments sound all that good, and cranking up the volume really doesn't count if you can't handle an outstanding solo or a hypertight riff. Which they certainly can't. Oh well, at least they were still better than Kiss. However, that bit of sour information certainly doesn't relate to Mr Noddy Holder - his lionine roar chews up and spits out any feeble studio efforts of the time (he'd only start fully exploiting his vocal cords in the studio a year later, on Old New Borrowed And Blue), and on energetic rock'n'roll numbers like 'Keep On Rocking' and - particularly - 'Get Down With It' he is the obvious star. Nobody can beat that roar - and thus, nobody can deprive Slade of their title as the ultimate party band of all time.

The album is pretty rough - all of the songs but one are rockers, and even their totally unexpected rendition of John Sebastian's 'Darling Be Home Soon' includes a hard-rockin' mid-section. The rest of the song is pretty inept, though (if you're really looking for a good cover version, check out Joe Cocker's take on his debut album - that one was much better); it is, however, interesting to notice the rude belch that Holder lets out during a particularly soft pause in the song, apparently letting us all know how much he cares for sentimentality. Although, to be fair, he just borrowed that trick from Jim Morrison's live performance of 'When The Music's Over', didn't he?

As for the rockers, 'Get Down With It' is perhaps the best example of Slade's live sound - Holder really manages to get the crowd going, and hey, anybody could, if only that anybody managed to roar out 'LET YOUR HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIR DOWN' in such an ultra-convincing way. The rock'n'roll oldies medley of 'Keep On Rocking' is also hilarious, with Noddy adding gibberish to the regular relics and doing a fine job of transforming the compact, well-structured oldies of the days of yore into a disconnected drunken mess - just the thing required. 'Know Who You Are' and 'In Like A Shot From My Gun' are rather undistinguishable, though, and that's the best I can say about them. And the most surprising parts about the concert are the tracks that bookmark this live recording. The lead-in song is Slade's take on Ten Years After's 'Hear Me Calling': for some reason, they had opted to take a really dumb Alvin Lee song (I never thought much of it for being too repetitive and simplistic) and transform it from a meek blues shuffle into a bass-heavy, all-out-rockin' performance. Did they manage? More or less, but one can still question the rightness of this selection.

And the album finishes with yet another cover - Steppenwolf's 'Born To Be Wild', carried over from the band's debut album; if the selection itself is not at all surprising (I mean, the song was practically invented for Holder to sing it, wasn't it?), the final section is - the band finally goes from half-chaos to complete and utter chaos, engaging in feedback exercises and dirty noisemaking. Frankly put, this is just an obligatory gimmick which I don't like at all; I'd better have some Who or Jimi Hendrix wreak havoc instead. Three or four minutes of chaos for a short live Slade album is three or four minutes too many. Besides, I'm pretty sure they just instigated that chaos out of inability to play a stunning closing solo - hear that, Dave Hill? Your guitar playing sucks! Fortunately, there's more to the album than just guitar playing, and while it's been definitely overrated by the fans, there's still no reason why a fan should dismiss it.


SLAYED? ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1972

Sure rocks like nothing else, but is it necessarily a good thing? By the end of 1972, when this album (usually regarded as some kind of Bible for Slade fans) came out, Ziggy Stardust was already on the shelves and everybody finally knew that glam-rock could rock out and be intelligent and, er, 'mentally entertaining' at the same time, and no good ol' crappy Slade could disprove that notion. Still, this is really a good record if you're in that state of mind when your brains are really tired and you need some kind of musical amphetamine to groove to. Some pick AC/DC in that case, some stretch out for the Ramones; I say one could with equal pleasure, if not more, stretch out for Slayed. The big problem is, in a poor state of mind you'll hardly guess what is hidden behind the ludicrous song titles 'Gudbuy Gudbuy' and 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now': this is where Slade's traditional orthography-bashing schtick firmly falls in place (I sometimes feel it was all organized in order to justify the word 'cum' in their hit single 'Cum On Feel The Noize', kinda like the Agatha Christie murderer killing everybody in A-B-C order so as to mask the fact that he really only wanted to murder the C person - but this, of course, can't be proven).

Apart from that, no problems at all. If you don't set your expectations too high, of course - for one, there are hardly any solid riff-based tunes on here, as the boys mostly stick to the ages-old R'n'B pattern, gruffing it up with fat, grumbly guitar tones and Noddy's ever-improving voice. But you gotta give them some credit - nobody really wielded that much POWER on the glam scene at the time, certainly not the bubblegum-based Sweet and definitely not the far more subtle and 'graceful' T-Rex. When Holder's patented roar is combined with Hill's bombastic guitar tone and the incessant stomp of the rhythm session, well... you just might have something there.

No ballads this time - just slice after slice of vintage r-o-c-k, unless you count their more "soulful" grooves like 'I Don't Mind' and 'I Won't Let It 'Appen Again' as power ballads; but they are way too grooving and "dis-emotional" to be true ballads. They are also not among the highlights - the highlights, quite naturally, are the tunes on which Holder gives it his all. In my humble opinion, he overdoes the trick only once, on the way too ballsy 'The World's Going Crazee', a good traditional piece of boogie that starts out quite convincingly (wow, dude, what fine party music), but then degenerates into a stupid overbloated screamfest. But 'How D'You Ride', 'Look At Last Nite', and 'Gudbuy T'Jane' all qualify as solid, if not melodically spectacular, rockers. On 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now' Holder almost jumps out of his own vocal cords - Roger Daltrey was probably eating his heart out, only wishing that God would have blessed him with such a pair of lungs in the long gone days of his youth. And 'Gudbuy Gudbuy' actually astounds with its unabashed heaviness (something very Deep Purplish on there, don't you think?). The lyrics never amount to much, but never fall into the depths of primitive cock rock either, as they would sometimes do later; and whoever comes here for ass-kicking, will have his kicked to unconsciousness.

Even the covers are excellent - it almost seems as if Noddy were born to perform Janis Joplin's 'Move Over', as he fully preserves the paranoid, pulsating energy of the song and even makes a convincing imitation of Janis' own intonations at times. And 'Let The Good Times Roll' (probably recorded at the initiative of Chandler, as this was an old Animals standard) is absolutely hilarious. In short, you just can't go wrong with this album if you don't expect anything special. This is just a good, pleasant, have-a-good-time record with a few memorable compositions. Holder and Lea weren't the worst of songwriters.



Year Of Release: 1974

Okay, to be Mr Frank with you, this only deserves about three stars if judged by the quality of the music (which is all right by me, but surely no great shakes). But throw on an extra star just for one thing - that ear-splitting bawl which comes out of Noddy Holder's jaws. I mean, really, with each album his roar just got louder and louder, and completely on key at the same time. Perhaps it was a little bit overamplified in the studio, so as to rise loud and proud above the smashing guitars and caveman drumming, but that hardly detracts from the sheer power of Holder's lionine roar that's undeniable. Old New Borrowed And Blue might just be the 'most vocally loud' rock record ever made, and that alone should deserve some attention. Oh, and, by the way, the American title of the album was Stomp Your Hands, Clap Your Feet, so if yer a yank, ya might 'swell stuff 't up yer 'ed, sure 's eggs'z eggs. Mean and grouchy.

Once again, Chandler overemphasizes his egotistical ego on this record, as Slade open it with an old Animals standard - 'Just A Little Bit', which the Animals used to perform under the title 'Don't Want Much'. Eric Burdon must have had a few uneasy nights after hearing this version; not that I really state that Slade sound better than the Animals, missing that band's subtlety and professionalism, but there's just no doubt in my mind that if the Animals only had had the ability to perform 'Just A Little Bit' ('Don't Want Much') in 1964 just like Slade would be performing it in 1974, they would have certainly done it Slade-style. That brutal onslaught that attacks your ears with the first drawing of breath from Holder and just never ceases until the end is terrifying, plus Holder proves himself a master of the 'calm before the storm' techniques and has a few surprises up his sleeve for the uninitiated.

It doesn't get much worse after the debut, though. Sure, like all Slade records, Old New lacks any startling diversity, but there are enough tastefully-produced 'softer' spots to outbalance the mean 'n' rough, like, for instance, the irresistable retro ballad 'Find Yourself A Rainbow', where Holder sings in a restrained, yet completely idiosyncratic voice to a nice electric piano background. And the classic Britpop sound also reasserts itself in tracks like 'When The Lights Are Out' and 'Everyday'. If you ask me, we should really praise the guys for not embracing the banalities of 'power ballads' - instead of basing their more 'emotive' material on basic overblown power chords and Archangel Gabriel-imitating vocals, they base it on light catchy piano phrases or nifty little rhythms underpinned by homely, almost intimate vocal harmonies. Ripping off the Beatles, you say? Well, sure sounds better than ripping off Uriah Heep.

And the rest of the harder material never spares the listener either - yeah, it's all basic rockabilly and 'by-the-book rock'n'roll', but delivered with twice as much talent as, say, Kiss. Not to mention technical proficiency. And speed: 'We're Really Gonna Raise The Roof' boogies along like a Panzer tank that has suddenly decided to speed along doing 200 miles per hour instead of the appropriate 50 or so. Sure, not everything is top notch, and there are somewhat more sterile mid-tempo boogies than I'd actually want; numbers like 'Do We Still Do It' don't amount to anything more than half-assed early Beatles rip-offs (again) with far less intricate instrumentation, only saved by Commander Holder's bawling. But this filler never really overwhelms the record.

Truthfully, are you really judging your Slade by the strength of the melodies? No, not that I mock you; Slade do have melodies in their songs, unlike early Kiss, and discussing which Slade album is more melodic is a perfectly normal way of killing time. It's just that there are better ways. Intuitively, I feel that Slayed is more interesting melodically. But really, I prefer to judge Slade albums based on the BRUTAL POWER of these albums, as this is Slade's main schtick where they easily beat out any other glam band. And in brutal power, Old New Borrowed And Blue is definitely this band's hour of glory. This record should be played loud and louder, and you'll be psychologically rewarded seeing the glass of your neighbours' windows floating around in the air. Just make sure your favourite parrot is locked up in a sonic-proof box.



Year Of Release: 1974

This one's hard to get too excited about, but there's no need to, actually - Slade In Flame is a relative throwaway, a soundtrack to some movie nobody has ever seen, and it doesn't have that many "Slade classics", whatever you call it. I'll tell you one thing, though: Slade is a really good band, and even their throwaways are fully listenable all the way through. It's not like it goes with some Kiss album where halfway through I'm just ready to grab my head so as not to let the remaining brain cells escape. It just goes to show that, just as it goes with so many other rock sub-genres, British glam-rock was generally way more intelligent and endurable than the American one. Well, the European musical tradition speaks for itself.

Speaking of the European musical tradition, Slade In Flame opens with arguably the band's best ballad ('How Does It Feel?'), all of it based on a traditional British musichall tradition, borrowing heavily from the Kinks but even heavier from pre-Kinks mass music, with dinkly dunkly pianos and pompous horns unexpectedly replacing the classic Slade guitar sound, and Noddy sounds softer and more humanly than before - as if the angry smelly caveman suddenly fell victim to a fit of compassion and tenderness. Hah! What a bummer. What a terrific song.

They pick up steam soon afterwards, of course; unfortunately, the rockers sound rather, eh, pro forma, and Noddy's voice is but a wee bit more restrained than on Old Borrowed New Blue, but, unfortunately, that bit of restraint is a bit too much, and compared to the last record, the rockers are clearly a regression. And songs like 'So Far So Good' - eh... did the band really have a need to write that gunk? Where's the essence, dammit? It's loud and proud, but hardly catchy in the classic sense. There's just way too much uninspired songwriting on this album, if you get my drift. They sound like they're still angry and rough, but I'm not a fan of anger and roughness if they go nowhere. These songs don't exactly invite us to rock'n'roll, and they're certainly not 'spiritual' enough to lay down any catharsis on us, and they're not weird enough to stop by and say, 'Hey... I say.... that was weird! What do you say?' They're just... okay. Midtempo, even, smooth, blah blah. 'Summer Song (Wishing You Were Here)' almost sounds like Queen in a "let's get together people" mood, and it's dangerous.

The good news, then, is that the best songs on Slade In Flame are actually not hard rockers - could you imagine a Kiss "best-of" song not being a rocker? (sorry, I know I'm getting carried away, but there are moments when you can't can't can't can't help it). Like I said, 'How Do You Feel?' is a music-hallish ballad; 'Far Far Away' is a somewhat moving, almost authentic acoustic folk-rocker with rousing vocal harmonies. Oh yeah, there's also the strange, creepy 'This Girl' with a particularly nasty vocal delivery - is it Holder singing? Sounds like a laryngitis-pursued Peter Hammill in a particularly nasty mood.

And that's about it. There's nothing else to be said about this album. Nothing at all. Remember, if you have nothing else to say when you're writing a review, better shut up, because doing otherwise will cause you to waste a) your head, b) your fingers, c) your keyboard, d) your time, e) your nerves, f) your computer power, g) your Internet connection time, h) your modem capacity, i) your cable, j) your readers' time, k) your readers' nerves, l) your readers' computer power, m) your readers' Internet connection time, n) your readers' Internet modem capacity, o) your readers' cable. Not to mention that it'll divert you from going out and doing some useful work that'll doubtlessly cause you to enrich yourself and bring your government more taxes. Unless you're working in a tax-deductible organisation, in which case you're hardly a review writer anyway. Don't you have better things to do?

P.S. Disregard that last paragraph, please. I, for one, never follow that advice.



Year Of Release: 1976

Critically acclaimed as the best Slade album ever (at least, partially acclaimed) - but I'm not necessarily convinced. On one hand, it's rather amazing that such a supposedly 'dumb' glam band as Slade could produce a record of such high quality as late as 1976, when glam as a genre was already non-existent; on the other hand, Nobody's Fools is far from being the 'quintessential' Slade record. Its overall sound is a bit tame for Slade; not that it's really overproduced or anything, but it just doesn't kick that much ass - all these mid-tempo rockers just don't get the adrenaline rushing, you know. You know? Also, Noddy is trying to be more restrained than usual, and he never even once really gets to scream his head off. And what's a Slade album without Noddy screaming his head off? And what's a Noddy Holder worth for if he ain't screaming his head off?

That said, on a song-by-song level Nobody's Fools is indeed an excellent record, chock-full of catchy rockers that are very rarely saddled with dumb sexism or idiotic lyrics. And maybe I'm sacrificing my credibility, but I always go entirely ga-ga even over such a supposedly 'tasteless' ditty as 'Did Your Mama Ever Tell Ya' where Noddy makes fun of the nursery rhymes suggesting we all read between the lines ('Jack and Jill went up the hill/Supposed to get some water/They stayed up there a long time/Doing what they shouldn't ought-a' or 'Little Jackie Horner sitting quiet in his corner/How'd he get that name/Doing what he shouldn't ought-a'). I KNOW it's gross and dirty, but I just can't help it. Noddy sounds completely hilarious on that one. I dig the guy.

Getting more serious, though, I'd like to point out that 'Nobody's Fool' is catchy as hell and while 'Do The Dirty' never really lives up to the frenzied roar of 'BOOGIIIIIE!' in the intro, it still has a couple tremendous hard-rocking riffs that kick your average shit like Kiss deep into the bowels and right through the marrow! And 'Let's Call It Quits' might just be the best 'roots-rocker' ever recorded by these guys, with obvious country-rock inclinations (although the guitars are all heavy and distorted) and a main melody that's near impossible to get out of your head, plus Holder comes the closest to ECSTASY as he ever gets on the album in the refrain. 'Let's call a tie-ie, let's call a tie-ie, before we make one another start to CRY-AI-AI-AI-AI-EEE...'. Geez, Slade might be boring pub-rock to some, but name me a pub rocker with a throat like that. Not even Rod Stewart could roar like that.

Speaking of Rod Stewart, a couple of tunes do resemble Rod Stewart at times. 'Pack Up Your Troubles', for instance: just the kind of uplifting, cheerful acoustic melody that Rod was rather fond of. So cozy and homely, and that Holder chap is singing right at ya through the speakers! Can you identify with the song? I betcha you can, easily! Great slide guitar playing, too. And the utter Britishness of the band - apart from 'Did Your Mama', of course - shines brightly on 'In For A Penny', which sounds as if it has been carried directly over from the music hall and reinterpreted for a rock band. Ray Davies, it's your shrine we worship at.

I can't say that the heat is ably sustained throughout the whole album - it gets a wee bit thinner towards the end, with a couple more rockers that don't exactly cut the mustard and a rather mediocre closer ('All The World's A Stage') overridden with lyrical cliches - I mean, who would have a song with a refrain that goes like 'All the world is a stage, all the people are players' in 1976? Eh... Well, that's right, Ray Davies! Ray Davies would! But apart from Ray Davies, who would have a song with such a refrain? Nobody. But these minor complaints still needn't detract us from acknowledging the obvious: dumping some of the kick-ass energy and flashy image of the past, Holder and Lea really burst their brains trying to come up with a solidly written, well-produced, well-performed bunch of songs and must be given due credit for the hardship and toil alone. I would still prefer Old New Borrowed And Blue to this as the main proof of Slade's importance, but my thumbs are held high up in the air anyway.



Year Of Release: 1977

Indeed. Whatever happened to Slade? This is atrocious beyond belief.

Okay, I realize that such a low rating might not be completely deserved. I mean, I would still prefer listening to this stuff than to any given Kiss album, simply because it's more 'adventurous', if I might say so. On further reflection, you can throw on an extra half star or maybe even an extra full star. In this case, take this one and a half star rating for what it is: an indication of the unbelievable dropdown in quality from the previous album.

I mean, it's one of those desperate cases when you can't even decide what it is exactly that makes you squirm so much. Each of these tunes, taken individually, works on some level. Slade decide to go very heavy on this album - not in an AC/DC-esque vein, of course, just taking that earlier extra-heavy vibe they had and milking it throughout. Lots of dirty, distorted, multi-tracked riffs and blazing solos, the trademark Holder roar - apparently, Nobody's Fools was deemed as way too 'sissy', plus, there was this punk thing happening around, you know, so the boys said: 'Desperate times call for desperate solutions!' and decided to get really tough. The problem with Slade, however, was that they never really were that tough before - their music was just basic barroom boogie with a retro flavour thrown in occasionally, overamped, overmagnified and supported by Holder's screaming. And trying to move away from basic barroom boogie and their decent attempts at Britpop into more 'alien' heavy metal territory was not a good decision at all.

To tell you the truth, I was pretty surprised when I heard the record was actually produced by Chas Chandler. I mean, Slade never had particularly great production before, but... but this is awful. The guitars blend together into a head-splitting mishmash of noise, distortion and cacophony, no matter how many distinct notes they actually play; Noddy is buried under this hideous avalanche, although, to tell you the truth, Noddy himself sounds kinda unaware of himself and pretty much spent on most of the numbers. Perhaps there are memorable riffs on here - I couldn't tell (too busy swallowing all kinds of analgetics. Didn't help until the album ended). Probably not. I'm not an expert digger, but I sure can dig out interesting riffs out of the Who or Black Sabbath, I think I could dig out interesting riffs out of Slade. For the most part, this is just standard three-chord rock, but Dave Hill piles up all kinds of staccato solos around the main rhythm pattern so you're led into thinking they're playing something significant when they're just cruising for burgers.

Staring blankly at the track list after the third listen, I don't really know where to begin discussing it. I kinda hoped that 'Lightning Never Strikes Twice' would turn out to be a cover of the old Move classic, but no way, it turned out to be a shitty original. The first song on the album was called 'Be' and was distinctive in that the boys were almost rapping on that one. This wasn't good. 'Gypsy Roadhog' was a wee bit reminiscent of the classic Slade style - it roared in with the trademark barroom boogie sound and a really nice riff, but then the riff went away and the excitement followed suite. Then came all the generic heavy metal stuff, and my brains followed suite. What can possibly be said about tripe like 'Dogs Of Vengeance' except that you may headbang to it if you got nothing better to headbang to? What happened to all the humour and lightweightness of old? And did they really think this lumpy, plodding, dumb heavy metal would present a good alternative to the fresh punk sounds of 1977? Stupid guys.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Whatever Happened To Slade is now one of the hardest Slade albums to find, particularly in the US. Apparently, some record companies took the title as an instruction or something...



Year Of Release: 1978

Slade's late Seventies albums all suffer a curious fate, being virtually ignored all over the place: out of print through the years, neglected now just as well as upon their actual release. However, if in the case of Whatever Happened To... I find such a treatment completely justified, I certainly can't say the same about Return To Base, an album that certainly deserves its name. Having experienced such a tremendous low with their metal/hardcore experience, Slade really return to what they do best: basic barroom boogie and Britpop-influenced balladeering, not bothering to make their sound particularly 'cool' for the new epoch of music-making. This is also their first album not produced by Chas Chandler, and I can fully understand them: after last year's catastrophe, they probably were right to hang a large part of blame on Chas.

Not that the record sounds really fresh and really exciting, like in the good old days. There is a small bunch of semi-classics here, but overall, neither Noddy's roar nor Hill's guitar skills stand up to the band's best moments. A lot of emphasis is put on active overdubbing, with Noddy constantly doubletracking his singing and the guitar riffs often drowned out in a sea of effects; thus, "raw" the album certainly ain't. Nevertheless, the songs that are classic kick ass all over the place: thus, it's not often that the boys could come up with a song as crrrrrrunchy as 'Nuts Bolts And Screws', with Hill's screechy sleazy guitar tones and Holder's "hammering" vocal antics complementing each other perfectly - that chorus ('I heard it on the news, nuts bolts and screws, I heard it on the news!')'will take a long time to get out of your head. And if you can resist wildly headbanging along to the frantic boogie of 'My Baby's Got It', you're one tough guy, I must say.

Simplistic rock'n'roll tunes play an even huger role on this album than before, in fact - but that's not bad news, after all, weren't Slade just a simplistic rock'n'roll band? Songs like 'Ginny Ginny' or Chuck Berry's 'I'm A Rocker' go off splendidly; I don't suppose there's quite a lot of things to be said about that stuff, but you could hardly argue that they couldn't have fit on any earlier Slade album. Maybe a slight shift in production values, 's all.

If there is a problem, it's that apart from 'Nuts Bolts And Screws', none of the songs present us with any original hooks: excellent as the melodies are, it's all just a quick runthrough through the past glories. At least, in their prime you couldn't have accused Slade of lacking any kind of creative ideas - they wrote their own material within the "basic rock'n'roll" formula, but the songs were theirs, with well rounded out, creative melodies. I don't feel a potload of creativity going on here, if you ask me; for every song, you could find an earlier prototype.

Plus, a few of the songs are atrocious. What's with that mad dog of a power ballad, 'Lemme Love Into Ya', for instance? (No, it doesn't have anything to do with AC/DC's 'Let Me Put My Love Into You', although that one is a mad dog on an otherwise fine album, too). Tired, leaden, generic riffs within a tune that doesn't do anything - it's too ponderous and slow to rock out, but isn't too heartfelt to draw on your emotions, either. Where's the point? More or less the same goes for the forgettable 'I'm Mad', although that tune is at least more upbeat, recalling Slade's best attempts at sounding 'folkish'.

Actually, there's only one good ballad on the whole album - 'Sign Of The Times' has nice, touching guitar/piano interplay and pretty nostalgic lyrics, enough to raise a tear if you're an old fan of the band's and enough to guarantee a nice tingling sensation if you're a new one. But that's about it.

The record is fortunate enough to include a couple of excellent bonus tracks on the CD reissue, though, so if you happen to have a million eyes and spot out this extreme rarity of an album, hold it fast: '9 To 5' is a shimmy-shimmy-shiny pop rocker that'll get your knees a-jerkin' for sure, and 'Two Track Stereo - One Track Mind' os by far the last of the Totally Rambunctious Glam Anthems ever put out by this album, of the 'Cum On Feel The Noize' quality, I mean. Noddy roars like there's no tomorrow, almost as if he was compensating on this track for the relatively lacklustre tone on the album.

In any case, the band almost seemed to vanish from the Earth's surface after this album - their next record wouldn't come out until three years later, and it's said that Return To Base disappeared from the shelves so quickly that the boys... decided to re-record most of the songs for the next album! No, really! I'm not joking! Just like Motorhead!


ALIVE VOL. 2 ***

Year Of Release: 1978

This one is now mostly available packaged on one CD together with Alive, and it's an excellent idea - the closest analogy I can think of right now is the Police' Live! set, which gives you the possibility to compare the band's two different stages of creativity/popularity. Same here: Slade Alive! was a rather intimate, raw, unpolished setting from a young band in its initial stage, while Vol. 2 presents Slade, if not at their peak, at least, at a stage when the band already had years of work, a steady fanbase and an established style and legacy behind them. So what's the difference?

By now, they are almost totally relying on original material, leaving such oddities as the Steppenwolf, Ten Years After and John Sebastian covers behind. They also sound more polished, with lots of backing vocals (and is that female backup vocals I hear on a couple of tracks or are my ears deceiving me?), slick and steady guitar sounds, and none of that charming rock'n'roll mess that made Alive! so dang exciting. That's a flaw, indeed: apart from Holder's thunderous banter and a bit higher volume, there's little on here to distinguish the songs from the studio versions. The elements of audience interaction are also diminished - the band now plays tight, time-dependent sets with little space for improvisation or hooliganry. As usual, there is very little space for relaxation, as well: just one ballad ('Everyday'), and while it's pretty and all that, I could have expected maybe one or two more 'soft' numbers from the boys - after all, Slade weren't AC/DC, and cool Britpop influenced balladry would never have marred their image.

All said, it's still a cool album - as far as professional, inspired, powerful by-the-book live versions of excellent studio songs go, that is. 'Gudbuy T' Jane' and 'Mama Weer All Crazy Now' are the obvious highlights; I have never cared that much for the crowd-pleasing 'Cum On Feel The Noize', though. It may sound stupid, but I insist that the song, even if it's the most instantly recognizable in the catalog and the one that gets the most airplay, does not represent the essence of Slade. They're not a band of crowd-pleasing anthem writers, see? They play good ol' rock'n'roll; I'd take the rip-roaring 'Gudbuy T' Jane' over 'Noize' any time of day.

And as far as good old rock'n'roll goes, by the way, I nearly forgot to mention that they really do at least one cover on here. 'My Baby Left Me' qualifies as the best ever version of that song I've ever heard, ever ever ever period ever. Beats out even the CCR version. It really takes a genius to base the tune on a gruff descending heavy metal riff, without slowing it down or changing the vocal melody or anything, and Noddy does a mammoth job on here, as well. Plus, it's by far the only place where I managed to hear something I've longed to hear for nearly all my life - somebody actually combining 'My Baby Left Me' and 'That's All Right Mama' in one song, proving it's really one and the same tune (well, as if that needed real proof, and frankly speaking, I don't even know why it makes me so happy, but somehow it does. One of the small rock'n'roll mysteries of life).

To complete our innocent track listing, the band also performs 'Get On Up' (decent, if not totally smashing, show opener), 'Take Me Back'ome' (never managed to properly memorize that one), 'Be' (a version VASTLY superior to the original, even if I have to contradict myself, but hey, since Whatever Happened is the band's weakest effort of the Seventies, it's only natural that I should say something like that), 'Burning In The Heat Of Love' (hmm, that one's a cover as well? Geez, how I hate exceptions to rules...), and 'One Eyed Jacks With Moustaches' (rip it up fairly well on that one).

Guess that's all. Oh yeah, rumours have it that there was a lot of overdubbing going for this record (maybe that explains the female vocals?). Well, comes across as no shocking surprise for me - after all, I was shocked far more when I learned that Thin Lizzy's Live And Dangerous (coincidentally released in the same year) was almost completely re-recorded in the studio. Now that was a disappointment. Whaddo I care if Mr Hill wishes to overdub an extra guitar riff here and there? He's bold and bald (i.e. shaved), he can do whatever he wants. This album kicks ass! But fails to impress! It's hardly a mess! But where's the progress?

See, I can write poetry, too. Just like Mr Holder!


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